LIHUE, Kauai — A dog attack killed a two-week old Hawaiian monk seal pup and injured four other seals on Kauai, federal authorities said Wednesday.
The seals were inside a fenced protection zone at a remote beach on Kauai’s north shore. One or more dogs got around the fence to attack the animals, the National Atmospheric and Ocean Administration said.
A necropsy determined a dog bite most likely killed the 50-pound pup.
The pup’s mother had puncture wounds on her muzzle, indicating she may have been injured while attempting to protect her offspring.
Another mother-pup pair and a weaned seal also showed puncture wounds consistent with a dog attack. Officials don’t believe these wounds are life-threatening.
Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species. There are less than 1,200 of them in existence and their population is declining at a rate of about 4 percent per year. Each individual seal is important to the survival of the species, NOAA officials say.
Beyond the injuries, officials are worried a dog attack could infect seals with a disease like distemper, which is found in household pets, said Rachel Sprague, the Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator for NOAA.
Hawaiian monk seals don’t have an antibody for distemper. Outbreaks of the disease have killed other marine mammals, like harbor seals and bottlenose dolphins, in the past.
“You only need one entry point into the population for something to spread,” said Sprague.
It’s not clear if the dog or dogs involved in the attack belong to anyone or were feral, Sprague said.
There didn’t appear to be any human footprints at the site, she said. Sprague said people can help by keeping their dogs on leashes.